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Author Archives: Mark Holsworth

About Mark Holsworth

Writer, independent researcher and artist, Mark Holsworth is the author of the book Sculptures of Melbourne.

Movement of Sunflowers

Shopping carts full of sunflowers, portable gardens ready for adoption and placed near train stations on the Upfield line. Field Works II, The Colonies, 2017 is not the work of guerrilla gardeners but the Melbourne-based artist, Ben Morieson working through the RMIT’s Centre for Art, Society and Transformation.

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It is different from a guerrilla gardens due to the hopes for public interaction and scope of the piece. A guerrilla gardener hopes to grow something and doesn’t consider  how the public will interact aside from a hope to be appreciated. Whereas Field Works II wants to map this interaction and wants it to be art. In order to properly map the work it must be noted that it is also part of this years Havana Bienale with more sunflowers at train stations in Cuba. (How much of the Havana Bienale comes from the Melbourne? I don’t know but the see a guest post by Greg Giannis for another work by a Melbourne artist that was in the Havana Bienale.)

Sunflower move to track the sun but in their shopping carts these are very mobile sunflowers.

Field Works II hopes to map the movement of the patches of sunflowers through the city. Th only problems is that I don’t think that any of the shopping carts have moved since they were placed by the artist. I didn’t take the cart full of sunflowers because I don’t feel like adopting any flowers and like the location that the cart closes to me is currently in as it decorates an ugly corner next to the book fridge, free library. Apparently this is a common attitude as narrated by the station attendant and writer, Jane Routley in Station Stories.

Maybe, given some time… and maybe they might all wilt and die from lack of water. This unexpected result would highlighting the lack of water and other basic facilities at some of stations along the Upfield line.

Rather than paint landscapes Morieson paints on the landscape with burnouts or flowers. He has worked with sunflowers before, Field Works I, a whole field of sunflowers planted on a vacant block of land near Macauly Station in 2014 and also 2014/15 Get Sunflowered, at eight assorted sites in Moe, Traralgon and Morwell.

There is a Van Gogh reference in sunflowers, Van Gogh painted his two series of sunflowers with his friend Gauguin in mind, thus doubling the art history references.

P.S. 17/1/18 Morieson informs me that 24 of the 70 trolleys have so far been adopted and moved so far.

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Intermission @ Collingwood Technical College

Intermission at the old Collingwood Technical College is three floors of an unoccupied school turned into a space for over thirty street artists to paint and install art in. Curated by Goodie the exhibition is a curious mix between contemporary art and the aesthetics of an abandoned building with the tags.

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It is a huge space and many of Melbourne’s notable street artists had pieces or often whole rooms to work with. It was good to see Astral Nadir working on a large scale. To see LucyLucy again on a large scale without the rest of the AWOL crew. And old faces like those of Mic Porter who was active a decade ago is back.

It had been raining for most Saturday afternoon but that didn’t put the public off. As only 200 people were allowed on the upper floors at a time and the public was queueing up out the building only an hour after it opened. After all this was great free entertainment: on the ground floor there were bands, DJs, VR movies and cans of Young Henry’s beer and cider being handed out. Fortunately it is not a one day only event and Intermission runs until 21 January.

In some ways it was a bit like Melbourne Open House for the old building. The art deco building has been left abandoned for 12 years – what a waste of space! The two bedroom caretaker’s flat on the top floor was a revelation. The event is an intermission as the Collingwood Technical College is about to be turned into the Collingwood Arts Precinct; Circus Oz and the Melba Spiegeltent are already out the back.

The exhibition was better than a whole stack of pieces painted on the walls inside a building as there were artists who had site specific work. Site specific is more than just placing their work in relation to the architecture but creating work that directly referred to the space. Heesco captured the feel of street artists painting in an abandoned building in his combination of installation and wall painting. 23rd Key referred to the location in a mural that mixed the face of Keith Haring with the Apollo Belevadere in tribute to Haring’s surviving and restored mural on outside wall of the Collingwood Technical College.

The inside and outside of a building might raise ontological issues between the words ‘street art’ and ‘urban contemporary art’ but I’m going to call it all street art rather than creating a useless lexicon and pretending that art and artists are always classified in a logical and accurate manner. After all abandoned building are a traditional site for graff and street artists to paint. As street art it was impressive and fun but it was weak as contemporary art. Sometimes it felt like a funky installation at an art squat in Paris or Berlin while at other times just another great Melbourne wall.

 


Art or arts?

‘Art’, as in ‘contemporary art’ or ‘modern art’, is different from ‘the visual arts.’ This subtle distinction confuses many people including some professional artists and has been the cause of many and repeated disputes. If it weren’t for this confusion and disputes arising from it the distinction would hardly worth mentioning.

‘Art’ is a singular noun that describes a collective idea. What exactly art is never become specific, it is an opened set, like games. It does not have the definite article ‘the’ nor the indefinite article ‘an’ because ‘the arts’ and ‘an art’ are entirely different to ‘art’. ‘The arts’ is the vaguest of the variants as it can mean everything from the humanities, logic, rhetoric to juggling and dance. ‘An art’ is at least referring to some specific skill. Whereas ‘the visual arts’ or ‘the fine arts’ are plural nouns with a definite article that means architecture, painting, drawing and sculpture.

The differences between the Dulwich Picture Gallery and the Musée du Louvre explains distinction between the fine arts and art. Both are the result of a royal collection, in the case of Dulwich the King of Poland-Lithuania, a country that ceased to be before the collection of fine arts could be delivered to its king. Opened to the public in 1817, it was opened to students of the Royal Academy two years earlier. Dulwich collection contained works of fine arts for students to study whereas the Louvre contained works of art.

The Louvre had opened twenty years earlier, in 1793, but had already made a revolutionary decision that would make a major difference The revolutionary difference is that the Louvre, along with a royal collection, included confiscated church property as a way of conserving them. The church altarpieces in the Louvre, decontextualised with their religious function removed, became art when displayed to be looked at as if they were paintings or sculptures.

‘Art’ emerged from the discourse about looking at things, like altarpieces in the Louvre, as if they were something like a painting or sculpture. To look at something as if it were a work visual art is the metaphoric relationship that the philosopher, Arthur Danto argues for in his institutional theory of art. It is this idea of art rather than a conspiratorial or consensus driven act of an actual institution that determines what art is.

For about a century the distinction between ‘the visual arts’ and ‘art’ was invisible, an imperceptible semantic distinction. The trajectory that started with confiscated church property continued with the items from other cultures similarly removed from their context. This was quickly followed with products of new technology, like photography and readymade found objects. It was Marcel Duchamp’s readymades that defined and illustrated the already widening schism between art and the visual arts.

Art may involve shopping, confiscating and appropriating images whereas the visual arts don’t highlight these activities. An artist may be making art or painting, sculpting and drawing or doing both.


Footbridge of Masks

In Brunswick there is a pedestrian footbridge that crosses over CityLink Tullamarine Freeway between Peacock Street and McColl Court. The bridge is adorned with 24 cast concrete faces. In 2017 a couple of newspapers reported on it under the headlines: “Brunswick’s creepy bridge – 25 concrete faces, not one nose and no one knows why” and “Creepy concrete faces appear on Brunswick bridge”.

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When I saw it on the news the artist who made the masks was a mystery to me (and I am trying to be an expert in the limited field of Melbourne’s street art sculpture) but one that I didn’t have time until now to investigate. Now that I have it is the paranoid reaction and the lack of any memory in suburbia that are the most disturbing elements.

What caused this paranoid reaction? Was this reaction just because a local graff writer, the prolific tagger Felon had decorated one of the faces, death metal style or was it because of the absence of a plaque to identify the art? I’m not surprised that the noses are all gone, it is the first thing to be damaged on a sculpture and it gives the masks an antique feel.

The propensity for paranoia in suburbia is no reason for alarm. A mystery has to have an element of danger and intrigue or it wouldn’t be mysterious. However, once the facts are revealed it generally turns out to be not that interesting, perhaps even mundane, like a pizza restaurant in Washington DC.

The following day The Age reported that it was the work of Melbourne artist Mary Rogers who “sculpted the 25 life-size faces in her home studio in the mid-1990s as part of the Freeway Bridge Project.”

The work combines architectural decoration on brutalist concrete and was intended to help humanise the freeway overpass. The masks were cast from local residents but, after twenty years, this has not given the bridge any local context or memory. The lack of any urban memory of the bridge speaks of the transitory nature of the urban life.

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Habitat Filter in Southbank

Unlike what many sculptures become by accident, Habitat Filter is intended to become a bird roost. The green, blue and orange shards fit into Melbourne’s contemporary architecture on the skyline. Eight shards stand in the middle of a freeway off ramp. In some areas there would be no need for the extravagance of such a construction but the highly visible location near ACCA and the Malthouse Theatre requires more than just a generic design solution.

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Habitat Filter comes with many environmentally friendly design solutions: a vertical garden creating an urban forest island and providing natural filtration of water and air by native species vegetation. It makes use of recycled materials and provides renewable energy, through photovoltaic cells, to offset the energy for its lighting. I hope that the vegetation has grown more over the year since I took these photographs shortly after it opened in 2016. It is part of CityLink’s sculpture collection; see my earlier post for more on freeway art.

It is an attempt to restore a small circle of degraded inner city land designed by Drysdale, Myers and Dow. I use the word ‘designed’ because that is what is used on the sculpture’s information panel and to emphasise the background of the designers. Matt Drysdale is an ‘urban designer’ and both Matt Myers and Tim Dow studied architecture. The large letters spelling out its name is just prosaic; it eliminates the mystery of art, reducing it to a branded design solution. For more on the subject of sculpture vs architecture.

I can understand why the chainlink fence is essential and yet it is not part of the design plan but rather added as an undesigned after thought. However, neither the sign nor the chainlink fence is not going to put the birds off roosting. Perhaps my pedestrian perspective on it is wrong; perhaps I should be travelling in a car to see it at speed rather than stationary. Or maybe, as Habitat Filter is a human free zone, I should ask the birds. I tried but various species of parrots argued amongst themselves, the crows commented dryly and the magpies just attacked me.

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Wilson Must Go

It is called the National Gallery of Victoria for obscure historical reasons but it is the nation of Australian and Australian nationalists that are at the core of the problem. The protest at the NGV over Wilson Security demonstrates a deep divide in Australia. I believe that Wilson Security along with all members of the Labor, Liberal and The Nationals parties of Australia should be standing trial for crimes against humanity in the International Criminal Court in the Hague where an appropriate and independent court of law can determine their guilt or innocence after hearing all the evidence. Others believe that Wilson Security is a legal and legitimate security contractor and that there is nothing inappropriate to their legal employment anywhere.

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It is clear that Wilson Security cannot provide security to the gallery when they have committed crimes against humanity. They become a massive additional problem for security at the gallery. Protesters have already proved that Wilson Security cannot provide security to the gallery by colouring the NGV’s water-wall and moat blood red and veiling Picasso’s Weeping Woman. The Weeping Woman is an excellent focus for the protest because the painting is riffing on the image of woman crying in the window in Picasso’s Guernica; a painting is a protest against fascist aerial bombing of civilians on 26 April 1937 during the Spanish civil war but it could be in Yemen this year.

I am sympathetic to all the mothers and their children at the NGV Triennial. To have something adult, intelligent and free that a young child will also enjoy is a rare combination that many a parent has wished for. The Triennial has been designed with both in mind. There is even parking for strollers outside the some of the spaces and many of the exhibits are very child friendly. It is the presence of so many children which makes the presence of Wilson Security even more offensive as the company has treated children and adults in a cruel, degrading and inhuman manner. I don’t how many parents with children enjoying the Triennial would have seen the horrible irony that a company that treated children and adults in a cruel, degrading and inhuman manner was providing security for the gallery. Some of them would believe in three word political slogans and send their own children to schools run by organisations with a history sexual abuse.

Three artists in the Triennial; Rafael Lorano-Hemmer, Richard Mosse and Candice Breitz have signed a letter of protest. Breitz and Lorano-Hemmer renamed their works in the Triennial to Wilson Must Go and Mosse found another way to incorporate his protest into his video work. I cannot accept that a company that has committed crimes against humanity in running the concentration camps on Naru and Manus Island for the Australian government should be employed by an art gallery and would join with Lorano-Hemmer to encourage others to consider making a donation to: http://riserefugee.org/ and https://www.asrc.org.au/.


Is that a Gleeson?

A large number of paintings were being loaded into a rented truck on Easey Street in Collingwood. I saw what appeared to be a late James Gleeson painting being carried out.

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I write, ‘appeared’ because although I am familiar with Gleeson’s paintings, I am not an expert, I only saw the painting from across the road and did not examine it. These caveats are necessary because, although the owner of Victorian Art Conservation, Aman Siddique was found not guilty of art forgery on appeal earlier this year, his lawyers claimed that copies, as distinct from forgeries, were being painted at Victorian Art Conservation. (For more read my post Forgery Trial Book.)

The real estate agent’s sign on the red brick building on Easey Street in Collingwood read: “For Lease: Industrial-Style: high ceilings, concrete floor, good natural light, rear laneway access, zoning: commercial 2, area: 570 square metres.”

The good natural light would have been important for Victorian Art Conservation but now the building where it was located is up for lease. The sign confirmed what I had heard in court had been told that the business was closed.

I happened upon the scene as I was passing by after visiting street artist Shida’s exhibition at Beeser Space, around the block on Keele Street, on my way to see an exhibition of rock photography by James Adams and Sam Brumby at Backwoods Gallery on Easey Street. They were the only two galleries in Collingwood with original exhibitions. Most of the galleries in Collingwood had stockroom exhibitions, even the shopfront Collingwood Gallery. (It has a stockroom?!?)

Shida’s paints beautiful and sexy figures that would have been avant-garde modernism if they were painted a century ago. I know that the paintings were genuine Shida paintings, although I am no more an expert on them than Gleeson paintings, because Shida was sitting the exhibition. No-one has ever bought a forgery when they acquired the art directly from the artist.

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Shida, installation and paintings


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